One-Stop Plant Conservation Shop
We tackle today’s complex conservation challenges at all levels of biological organization – from genes, to individuals, populations, communities, and ecosystems. Our scientists specialize in different areas, and then team up to determine how we can best protect our living heritage, and restore California’s diverse habitats – among them forests, dunes, marshes, islands, and chaparral.
Protecting California’s Rarest Plants
With only six occurrences on the Central Coast, Lompoc yerba santa (Eriodictyon capitatum) is in desperate need of our protection and one of the many rare plants we are working to save. Without fire to clear gaps for it to grow and genetic diversity to produce fertile seeds these already sparse shrubs are in decline. Our dedicated Garden staff is working to improve genetic diversity within one population on Vandenberg Air Force Base. Since 2013, our team, in collaboration with other organizations, has worked to propagate and transplant individuals grown in our nursery from two other populations while monitoring the existing plants. While we monitor the effects of increasing genetic diversity, we are also investigating the pollinators and habitat conditions to further understand the needs of this and other members of the maritime chaparral community.
Stature Does Not Dictate Importance
The diminutive Vandenberg monkeyflower (Diplacus vandenbergensis) grows only on the Burton Mesa. Only a few inches tall, this petite annual is threatened by development, vehicles, and invasive species. Since 2014, we’ve monitored its wild populations and characterized the microenvironments that these plants occupy in order to learn more about its annual variability and threats. Insect pollinators, like the checkerspot butterfly and soft-winged flower beetles, are tracked to map out the interconnections between the monkeyflower, its pollinators, and other surrounding plants. This careful data collection allows us to anticipate other complicated natural connections that will help us protect other plants in this habitat so that another ‘fun-sized’ flower is not overlooked in the future.
As our first line of defense against catastrophic floral annihilation, our seed bank is an insurance policy against complete extinction. A seed is a plant in waiting. In nature, some seeds can survive for decades, while others die in a few weeks if they do not germinate. In the freezer, they can last for over 100 years. By using cryogenics, we maintain a comprehensive collection of genetic material from California’s most imperiled plants and extend the viability of seeds long past its natural expiration date. This collaborative effort involves ten other institutions in California, as well as the national Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), which form the California Plant Rescue collaborative. In 2016, we will add another 6-8 taxa to this important collection.
The CPC is dedicated to the conservation and restoration of rare plants across the United States. The most critical role of the CPC is to foster development of a National Collection of Endangered Plants that is composed of seeds, living plants, and tissue cultures, which are held by member insitutions and the USDA's National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation. See a complete list of the Garden's National Collection Species here.